Waqqass Sheikh, pharmacist and owner of Everest Pharmacy – an Avicenna member with three branches in Manchester and one in Darwen in Lancashire – tells Saša Janković how he set up a Covid vaccination site at his Whalley Range branch.

Service type: Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccinations.

Name of pharmacy: Everest Pharmacy, Whalley Range,Manchester.

Name of pharmacist: Waqqass Sheikh.

Why did you start offering this service?

We have three consultation rooms and a pharmacy robot at our Whalley Range pharmacy – and head office – in Manchester, and we’ve been running a range of bookable clinics for years. Then Covid came along and all those were put on pause.

I’ve always been a huge advocate for pharmacy, so when the opportunity came up to get involved in Covid vaccinations I thought why should we go in and support GP surgeries when we have trained vaccinators and we have the sites ourselves. I wanted to change the mindset of the public, and our staff, that we are more than just a prescription collection point.

Our area – Moss Side – is very mixed, demographically, with some of the poorest and most affluent areas as well as one of the highest Covid infection rates in the whole country. I also know that among the ethnic minority patients who make up a large proportion of our patients, there is a lot of misconception about the virus, and the vaccines, so I know if I do this in our pharmacy we can educate them and they trust us.

It’s come to the stage now where everybody knows someone who has died of Covid which, sadly, has made it easier for the team to talk to our customers about it, and for them to want to do something to protect themselves and their families.

We started offering the service on 21 January 2021.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

It has cost us close to £7,000 to get this up and running, and the marquees were a big part of that. I had three consultation rooms but the NHSE requirement to offer this service was that I had to have four, so I converted our methadone room for that, but then had to take out the gondola in the centre of the pharmacy and made a separate area so we could continue with our supervised methadone service for those customers.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

My team are already vaccinators, but NHSE asked us to do a lot of theory-based training on the Pfizer and then the AZ vaccine, as well as extra modules on infection control. However, this training is via a free portal funded by the NHS.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

When we were first told, we were due to give the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine – although it later changed to the Oxford/AstraZeneca one. We hired two marquees to enable the appropriate social distancing and waiting areas for patients. When patients arrive, they are met by a marshal outside the first marquee, who guides them in, and they are then signed in – via PharmOutcomes – by one of our two non-clinical admin leads. Once the person has signed in, they are taken into the second marquee to wait, then into the vaccination room in the pharmacy, where they may have a short wait. Then they have the vaccination and can leave, as there is no requirement for 15 minutes observation following the AstraZeneca vaccine.

How have patients responded to the service?

As soon as our customers knew we were going to be giving Covid vaccinations we’ve had really good feedback from them, even before we’d started. Although people have to wait for their NHS letter or text message inviting them to book, we still get lots of people ringing and asking if they can have a slot.

Roughly how often do you carry out the service?

In order to qualify to supply the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs we had to commit to providing two thousand a week, so even though that got changed to the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccination we stuck to that amount.

How much do you charge for the service?

There is no charge.

Roughly how much do you make from offering the service?

We are paid £12.58 per vaccine, but the big question is whether we will get enough patients to cover our costs. The clinic isn’t immediately full, but I am confident that it will get busier for us.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Absolutely, as long as you know your organisation and understand the possible pitfalls. It’s not as straightforward as it may seem – you need a waiting area that is large enough to maintain social distancing, for example. Punch above your weight, definitely, but be realistic. As with any service, these things are great in principle, but you need to be built for it, with skilled staff, appropriate consultation rooms, and the correct booking software.

Read more case studies on pharmacy vaccination services.